By definition, networking is the practice of building and maintaining relationships, especially with others whose friendship could bring advantages such as a new job, professional or business opportunities. The most common networking is conducted through personal encounters and online social media.
Having a strong personal and professional network, more than any other factor, often is the difference that allows individuals to remain nearly consistently employed and have access to the most desired opportunities.
Build Your Network Before You Need It.
The key to having a network is investing in building one. Start networking today. Build your relationships now. Even if you are not currently looking for a new career opportunity, actively develop your network because if you don’t, when the time comes and you suddenly are searching for a new job, it’s too late.
Think long-term. Building long-term connections is like savings in a bank – if you stay actively connected, they will there for you for years to come.
So take the initiative and communicate with your connections. Jump into online forums and discussions; offer your professional insight and expertise. Be engaged and proactive by building your network relationships in advance so when you are ready to make a career move you will have a strong network in place to help you land that new opportunity.
Personal Networking – The Gold Standard.
The strongest, most valuable networking method is one-on-one because it’s based on personal communication and relationships between you and others who share an interest in each other and their business. These relationships can easily be developed by actively participating in professional activities, especially through professional associations.
Get active in the local and state chapters, and attend meetings regularly. Take on leadership roles and volunteering for committees and other activities not only is good for the organization, it will also bring you into more regular contact with peers.
Getting to know others and spending time with them is the most valuable networking you can develop. In an age where collaborating on projects and efforts are so team-based, you can never have enough friends. You need to work at developing contacts and relationships.
Develop Your MVP: “My Value Proposition” Pronouncement.
Also, be prepared to tell those you are meeting for the first time something special about yourself. This was commonly known as your elevator pitch, but that is an outdated, outmoded pronouncement of expressing your value proposition. Instead, we refer to this today as pronouncing your MVP (My Value Proposition). Like an elevator pitch, your MVP clearly expresses your value proposition. It’s your story.
It’s the account of who you are. Your story is unique to you, and sets you apart from all others. It’s the history of your life; your career journey. It reflects your experiences, accomplishments and what you have learned along the way. It’s also the intersection with others, relationships and associations you have built and nurtured throughout your travels. Like all great narratives, it holds themes of the path travelled and the prospect of your future. Your story has value; conversely your value is your story. You bring value to your career and you must harness this value and tell your story.
If you want to achieve success and provide value with service in your career, then you must first and foremost understand and be able to communicate that value. Otherwise, you are just unused potential. Potential is nothing without an eye towards achievement. Without achievement, potential can never develop into anything substantial; it remains unused and underutilized in reserve without ever being drawn upon.
Those that understand their value and master it are those who are most directed professionally. If you can’t communicate your value you will never know the full extent of it. Moreover, you will never be able to express or communicate it to others in ways to fully take advantage of it.
Consider an abbreviated MVP pronouncement; 30 seconds or less. With a warm smile and firm handshake, introduce yourself; explain your title and role with your firm, perhaps a passing comment about the sort of projects you work on; and then turn the table and ask questions about them.
Friendship, even in professional settings, is a two-way street. The more genuine interest you show in the other person the greater the odds you will be developing a new friend and colleague. And more than ever these days, the planning field is dependent on communication. To thrive in it, you must work to master the art of conversation.
At every professional gathering, take the initiative and introduce yourself to others. Make a point to meet new people at every meeting; get bold and sit with people you don’t yet know so you can make new acquaintances. Exchange business cards.
But remember, simply exchanging business cards is not networking. After meeting a new person for the first time, follow up in a day or two by sending an email, making a quick phone call, or even invite out for coffee or lunch.
To establish a strong, thriving network you must nurture it. You must take the initiative to reach out and maintain regular contact. Don’t just make professional acquaintances. Make friends. Get interested in others; actively engage them and learn what they do, how they do it, what their plans are, and what they are interested in or what drives them.
If you learn they are looking for something – new job, assistance on a project, or for a resource of some kind – offer them your time, assistance or referral. Get involved with their life. Get to know your connections well enough to be able to share items that would be of interest to them.
Squandering your network and resources are not what establishing those connections are all about. Using your network to help others will pay dividends tenfold for you in the future.
And, do what you say you will do. Keep your word and your commitments. Set an example of how you want others to see you and to treat you. Treat everyone with personal attention, dignity and respect. Be grateful for assistance and referrals given to you, making sure you personally thank the individual who helped you.
Social Media Networking.
Most of us use LinkedIn, Facebook and perhaps other social and networking sites. But, did you know that companies and recruiters are increasingly using these too? It’s part of a growing trend.
More firms are reaching out to “passive candidates” through social media; so your online presence is valuable to your future career opportunities and endeavors. The use of “passive talent acquisition” by organizations means you must have a strong online presence and building a broad online network is valuable to your career undertakings. LinkedIn is a gold mine for recruiters and candidates alike. Even if you are not currently looking, others are potentially looking at you. So you cannot ignore your presence online and actively participating on LinkedIn.
Reach out and connect with everyone you know professionally, from friends, colleagues and associates to clients, vendors, suppliers, and others you may have in your list of contacts in your phone and computer. Pay attention to updates and send congratulatory notes when appropriate and other messages that fit the purpose.
Go ahead and connect with a former colleague, classmate or client because social media is still a fairly new communications channel and people are not easily put off by being contacted from an old friend who has come across their profile.
Also, it’s important to your career plans to maintain a strong network even if it seems a bit awkward. Consider their viewpoint too. Why wouldn’t they want to connect with you again if you could be valuable to their future opportunities? Consider sending them a “get back in touch” message that explains how you came across their profile, what you might still have in common, and provide a bit of information about what you’re doing.
When they reply with an acceptance, it’s a perfect opportunity to suggest a “let’s get together” or a follow up about your career plans. Keep the dialogue going. Stay in touch and try to be of assistance and of value to them.
Another way to stay connected with others even if you don’t have an immediate need to share is by sharing something with them, such as information they might be interested in or enjoy, or comment on a discussion you’ve seen, or an update they have posted.
LinkedIn’s co-founder calls this doing “small goods,” and it’s one of the best uses of the site. And, don’t forget to post updates too so others can stay connected with you. Just make sure to be gracious as appropriate when responding to their reply as well.
It may seem that all of this online networking is time consuming and you have a job and life outside of reading online media. True, but it really doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to stay connected. Keep in touch a couple of times a year. Reach out and send a note.
As long as it touches points that are genuine and sincere you will be maintaining a valuable network of friends. Promotions, new jobs, birthdays and anniversaries are all natural invitations for doing this “small good.” Just be authentic and generous in all of your networking efforts.
It’s not about growing the largest list of connections or giving everyone a weekly update on your job search, it’s about building and maintaining mutually beneficial, long-term relationships that you and your network genuinely appreciate.